Workout Partner

Athletic apparel is gaining traction in many sectors. Here’s how to capitalize on its popularity.

In recent years, workout apparel has flourished as a fashion trend. According to Global Industry Analysts, the world’s sports apparel industry is expected to exceed $126 billion by 2015. Top designers, including Calvin Klein, Stella McCartney and Alexander Wang, have created their own collections of athletic attire, blurring the lines between what one can wear to the gym and to the office.

While the general public’s demand for athletic attire is growing quite consistently, schools and nonprofit organizations are two of the top markets for promotional clients, according to Ashley Nielsen, marketing manager for S&S Activewear (asi/84358). “Performance apparel can be used for athletic uniforms as well as race day giveaways,” she says.

Women are also a major demographic in the workout apparel industry. Fashionable lines of yoga and athletic gear from companies like Lululemon and SweatyBetty have combined the desire to stay fit and stay trendy.

The classic polyester workout T-shirt remains a popular item due to its light, breathable qualities (ideal for any athlete), but new products are emerging. “The trends for workout apparel can go either way – fashion or comfort. Quarter-zip athletic sweatshirts and pullovers have increased in popularity recently due to their versatility,” says Nielsen. “Wearers have the ability to dress these products up or dress them down. They have a fashion-forward look and are comfortable for daily wear.”

Performance attributes are a major reason that workout apparel has sold so well and is increasing in popularity. Products like the Champion Vapor tees and Hanes Cool DRI shirts from Hanes Branded Printwear (asi/59528) feature fast drying times, helping to cool athletes down after a workout. These garments are also versatile enough for a number of uses, including team uniforms, corporate events and schools.

But performance features benefit more than just athletes, and these attributes have become the real reason that this category of the apparel sector has become so popular in the promotional market. Hanes Director of Marketing Rachel Newman says that nine out of 10 consumers wear their athletic apparel for activities other than exercise. “More and more, consumers look for performance features such as wicking, quick drying and UV protection, which are ideal for any number of end-uses,” she says.

For this reason, promotional products distributors are able to tout the long-lasting benefits of athletic apparel to clients. The items will be worn not only while working out, but also on weekend at parties, during the week in the office and even at night for casual events. It’s this expanded opportunity for impressions outside of the home that make the athletic apparel category so versatile and appealing to marketers today. And, it’s those factors, experts say, that should consistently be explained and promoted to buyers.